They said reducing official inspectors by 75% and allowing poultry producers to police themselves, while increasing chickens inspected from 140 per minute to 175 and from 45 turkeys per minute to 55 would make meat less safe.
The plan should be halted until each change is assessed independently and scientifically to identify its effects and there is system-wide requirements for the testing of Salmonella and Campylobacter in poultry plants.
Representatives Rosa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter sent a letter to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) last week.
“We are deeply concerned with the Salmonella Action Plan that the FSIS is planning to implement,” they wrote.
“The Action Plan’s first and most important provision is the implementation of poultry slaughter modernization, but substantial concerns have been raised about the proposal and there is a conspicuous lack of evidence that the proposed changes will reduce foodborne pathogens.
“Considering the paucity of data and lack of comprehensive, external peer review, we are not convinced that this plan will either reduce Salmonella infection or promote public health.”
The plan said that an estimated 1.3 million illnesses can be attributed to the pathogen every year.
FSIS estimates that the modernization in inspection activities is likely to result in a reduction of at least 4,286 Salmonella illnesses per year.
The plan mirrors the HACCP Inspection Models Project (HIMP), which has no track record of reducing foodborne illnesses and ignores the most proven way to reduce foodborne illness: microbial testing, said Slaughter and DeLauro.
They said that USDA must document and make public the number of microbial tests performed per bird and implement standards on chicken parts before the plan could go ahead.
They said another part of the plan was the increase in allowable line speeds at processing facilities.
“There is no evidence that the proposed increase in allowable line speeds at poultry processing plants will not be damaging to the health and welfare of the plant employees or FSIS inspectors, nor is there evidence than an increase in line speeds would promote food safety or public health.”
Meanwhile, the investigation continues into Salmonella Heidelberg infections likely related to Foster Farms chicken that have sickened 481 people in 25 states.
The hospitalization rate is 38%, according to the latest update posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).